TALLAHASSEE, January 6, 2006 ( – In a major blow to education reform in Florida yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, the nation’s first state-wide school choice program. For six years, Opportunity Scholarships have enabled families to opt out of failing public schools and into better-performing public or private schools.

The Court ruled in an opinion drafted by Chief Justice Barbara Pariente that Opportunity Scholarships violate the Florida Constitution’s “uniformity” clause, which guarantees all Florida students a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” The Court declined to rule on a separate claim by teachers’ unions and other school choice opponents that Opportunity Scholarships violate the state Constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

The 5-2 ruling could force hundreds of mostly minority students out of the private schools of their choice and back into the failing public schools they left. As of last school year, African-Americans and Hispanics made up 95 percent of Opportunity Scholarship recipients. The Court is allowing the scholarships to continue throughout this academic year only.

“This ruling is a serious blow to equal educational opportunity and the schoolchildren of Florida,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Clark Neily, who helped argue the case before the state’s High Court.“We are reviewing our legal options and will work swiftly toward a solution to keep Opportunity Scholarship children in their schools.”

The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice, represents families using Opportunity Scholarships.

“Nothing in today’s unfortunate decision will stop the nationwide march toward greater educational opportunity,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.“Just this past year, new school choice programs were passed in Utah and Ohio, and programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Arizona and Pennsylvania continue to flourish. That progress will continue. Because today’s ruling was based on a narrow provision of the state Constitution, its effects are limited to Florida.”

In a stinging dissent, Justice Kenneth Bell wrote, “This ruling is such a radical departure from Florida precedent and common sense that the opinion appears both nakedly political.”

“There’s nothing left to do now, but to fight to save school choice however we can,” said Angela Mack, a mother of six in Miami with two children using Opportunity Scholarships to attend the well-regarded Lincoln-Marti school.“My kids would be devastated without these scholarships. They will not go back to the public school they left. If they can’t finish school at Lincoln-Marti, they will drop out.”

See the full ruling online: